Aristotle's Politics

Aristotle's Politics Summary and Analysis of Book VI

Chapter 1

Although democracy has been spoken of already, it is necessary to address the subject in more detail, especially with regard to its specific character and claim of justice.

Chapter 2

The defining principle of democracy is freedom, one aspect of which is having a share in ruling. They claim justice to be equality based on number rather than merit, and as a result the multitude have authority, meaning that the poor have more authority than the rich. A second aspect of freedom is to live as one wants. As a result, democratic people do not want to be ruled at all, but if it is necessary to have rulers then the next best option is to rule and be ruled in turn. Characteristics of democratic rule are as follows; universal eligibility of all citizens for office, offices chosen by lot, no repeat terms in office, short terms of office, a popular jury, and a popular assembly with great authority. All offices are paid.

Chapter 3

How can equality be brought about in the city? In democracies, people believe that justice is whatever the majority decides, while in oligarchy justice is whatever the well-off decide. Both are unjust..

Chapter 4

There are four sorts of democracy, distinguished by the type of people who make up the citizenry. The first and best type is the farming sort, because they are too busy working to hold frequent assemblies, and are not ambitious about ruling because they desire profit more than honor. They are content to have authority to elect and audit their officers.

The next best sort of democracy is among those who are herdsmen, because they are similar to farmers. The other types are much worse, because the people are either merchants or laborers, whose tasks do not involve virtue. They can easily attend the assembly because they frequent the town, which will lead to too many disturbances.

In order to try to maintain a stable democracy, leaders need to be careful about the composition and size of the population. One should not add more citizens beyond the point where the multitude is more numerous than the well-off and the middling elements.

Chapter 5

The hardest task of the legislator is not instituting the regime, but preserving it. Legislators should make sure that property confiscated by the courts become sacred property rather than public property, so that popular leaders do not try to gain popularity by confiscating property from the rich. Frivolous prosecution should incur large penalty to minimize the number of public lawsuits. If there are not enough public revenues to be able to pay people to attend the assemblies, there should be few assemblies and they should be brief, rather than having to tax the rich in order to make the necessary money. The taxation would create too much faction. If there are revenues, one should not allow popular leaders to distribute the surplus just to gain popularity among the people. It is important that the multitude not be overly poor, but it is necessary to manage revenues soundly so that there will be a sustained surplus which can help the poor. The notables should also try to help the poor so that the multitude will remain benevolent toward them.

Chapter 6

The most well-blended sort of oligarchy is very close to so-called polity. There should be a gradation of property assessments for offices such that lower offices have very low assessments. While democracy can be preserved by maintaining a considerable population, oligarchy must be well-managed to be preserved.

Chapter 7

To give a share in the governing body to the multitude can be done by opening it to all those who possess the assessment or other manners as previously mentioned. For the most authoritative offices, public services should be attached to them so that they are seen as a burden to ensure that only the best people will be willing to take them and that the multitude will not be jealous of those who hold them.

Chapter 8

Small cities need to have fewer offices than large ones. Offices are necessary to oversee the market, to oversee public and private property, to take care of revenues, to register court agreements and judgments, to guard prisoners, to attend to defence of the city, and to arrange for deliberation about common matters.


Aristotle's view on the connection between freedom and virtue, which was previously discussed in the analysis of Book I, explains his assertion that democracy is a deviation from the correct regime of polity. Aristotle holds that "the presupposition of the democratic regime is freedom." Following from this emphasis on liberty are two main principles of the democratic regime: (1) to consider "equality on the basis of number and not on the basis of merit," and (2) "to live as one wants." [These quotations are from the beginning of Book VI.] What is wrong with the principle of living as one wants? Indeed, such an idea seems intuitively to constitute the very definition of freedom; in a sense, it does. For what one wants, above all, is happiness. Therefore every want is either directly or indirectly aimed at reaching this ultimate good. What follows from this conclusion is that what one wants, in the deepest sense, is to live a virtuous life, for such a life is happy.

The problem with the democratic mentality, however, is that the emphasis on equality and freedom leads one to treat every manner of acting as equally choiceworthy. Aristotle addresses this flaw of democracy: "[Democracies] define freedom badly. . . . [E]veryone lives as he wants and Œtoward whatever [end he happens] to crave,' as Euripides says. But this is a poor thing. To live with a view to the regime should not be supposed to be slavery, but preservation." There are two crucial implications of the philosopher's assertion. First, it is the incorrect definition of freedom, not freedom itself, which is the problem. Second, this definition is incorrect because it leads one to slavery, and consequently even acts as a danger to the preservation of the regime. True freedom, as opposed to democracy's conception of it, entails one objective end‹happiness‹and necessitates that any manner of action incompatible with this end be considered inferior, for such an action would in fact defeat freedom itself. One could therefore conclude that Aristotle's emphasis on living virtuously as the central goal of politics actually stems from a desire to preserve freedom. When examined in this light, Aristotle's position that "the city exists not only for the sake of living but rather primarily for the sake of living well" and his consequent belief that "virtue must be a care for every city" are actually a means to protect the citizens' true freedom.